By Teresa Welsh |
Should women be able to fight in combat? Women already do serve in combat, and now policy is catching up to that reality.
Over the past decade, women have served in large numbers at the tip of the spear—living in combat outposts in sparse conditions, going on patrol with infantry units (that are formally closed to women), taking fire, and fighting back when necessary. Yet the 1994 combat exclusion policy officially barred commanders from assigning women to direct ground combat units. The policy prevented commanders from assigning their most qualified personnel to missions, regardless of gender. As a result, women like the four servicewomen we represent in the lawsuit Hegar v. Panetta had the opportunity to put their lives on the line, and two were awarded the Purple Heart, but many combat units, leadership positions, and training programs remained closed to them—they hit a brass ceiling. Women found themselves patrolling alongside units that were, on paper, closed to them, without having trained with those units. Servicewomen suffered, and so did our military.
All Americans should welcome the historic announcement that our nation will now remove one of the last categorical exclusions of women and that women will have the opportunity to contribute and serve in any position for which they are qualified. Commanders' hands will no longer be tied by an archaic policy grounded in outdated ideas of combat and of women's capacities. I hope that the Pentagon will not waste any time in implementing the total elimination of the combat exclusion policy, so that our armed services can assign the best of the best without regard to gender. The many servicewomen who have returned from difficult deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will be keeping a close eye on the implementation of the change in policy, and won't settle for anything less than a full opportunity to compete for official participation in combat units.
About Ariela Migdal Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project
Rachel Natelson Legal Director of the Service Women's Action Network
Loretta Sanchez Democratic Representative from California
Michael O'Hanlon Director of Research for Brookings's 21st Century Defense Initiative